“Big shoes to fill” is a popular idiomatic phrase that means that someone newly occupying a position or role has to be extremely good to go above the bar of the previous employee or person who took on that task.
It’s a famous slang in the workplace, and many employers use it a lot. But you may be searching for an alternative expression for “big shoes to fill” that still conveys a similar message, depending on the situation.
“Enormous footsteps to follow” or “a colossal legacy to uphold” can be an excellent alternative to the idiom “big shoes to fill.” These expressions convey the daunting task of living up to a predecessor’s achievements or reputation.
It’s not limited to these two options. There are many alternatives to use that offer nuanced perspectives and shift the focus from the literal size of the task to other aspects such as expectations, responsibilities, uniqueness, challenges, legacies, or achievements associated with a role or position.
I will show you 25 phrases like “big shoes to fill.” But before then, what does it mean?
What Do Big Shoes To Fill Mean?
The phrase “big shoes to fill” is an idiom that means taking over or succeeding someone who is highly accomplished or has left a significant legacy.
It implies that the person following in their footsteps will face great expectations and challenges in living up to the previous person’s achievements.
I remember when the board of directors at the firm where I work deliberated on laying off some prominent staff members.
I often hear sentences like, “We hope she doesn’t leave, but if she does, then hers are big shoes to fill.”
After extensive research, I couldn’t pinpoint the origin of this phrase. Still, it is commonly believed to have originated from stepping into large, empty shoes, metaphorically representing assuming great responsibility.
Many people use “big shoes to fill” in situations where someone is expected to take on a role, position, or task that has been performed exceptionally well by someone else.
So, any alternative phrase or idiom you use in replacing “big shoes to fill” must equally highlight the pressure and high expectations of following in the footsteps of a highly regarded predecessor.
Before we delve into this alternative phrase, you must know on what basis you can replace this idiom. Is it derogatory? Is it a threat? Or Is it a compliment?
Is “Big Shoes To Fill” A Compliment?
“Big shoes to fill” is not directly a compliment. It is an idiomatic expression that describes a situation where someone has to take over a role or responsibility previously held by someone highly respected or accomplished.
It implies that the person following in those footsteps has a challenging task ahead of them and high expectations.
While it acknowledges the greatness of the person who came before, it also suggests that the new person may face difficulty living up to their predecessor’s achievements.
So, it can be seen as recognizing the challenge rather than a direct complement.
But it also depends on who you’re speaking with. When you tell someone they’ve left big shoes to fill in an organization, you are indirectly lauding the legacy they’ve left behind.
But when you convey the same idea to someone newly occupying that role, you’re simply revealing to the person that there’s an enormous task ahead.
25 Big Shoes To Fill Alternatives
While “big shoes to fill” is a commonly used expression to describe a challenging task or responsibility, there are several situations where you might prefer to use an alternative term. Here are the best examples:
1. Large footsteps to follow
This phrase conveys a similar meaning to “big shoes to fill” but adds a touch of uniqueness to the expression. You can use it when someone needs to succeed or live up to the achievements or reputation of a predecessor.
2. A tough act to follow
If the person is expected to follow an outstanding performance, presentation, or achievement, you can replace “big shoes to fill” with “a tough act to follow.”
It emphasizes the difficulty of matching or surpassing the previous accomplishment too.
3. Steep expectations to meet
Instead of saying “big shoes to fill,” you can alternatively say “steep expectations to meet:: Both expressions mean the same thing, but the latter suggests that there are high standards or demands placed on someone, indicating that the task at hand requires significant effort and skill to meet those expectations.
4. A challenging legacy to uphold
If the idea of using “big shoes to fill” is to explain that the person has to maintain or preserve a particular standard, reputation, or tradition established by someone else, then you use this expression.
The phrase best suits when the person is succeeding a renowned figure or when one must preserve an organization’s values or ideals.
5. A weighty responsibility
This phrase emphasizes the seriousness and gravity of the task or role, implying that it carries substantial importance and impact, similar to “big shoes to fill.”
6. A formidable task ahead
If the task is difficult or daunting, and you want to describe a job that requires considerable effort, skill, or resources.
7. Great expectations
Like “big shoes to fill,” “Great expectations” refers to high standards or lofty goals someone is expected to meet.
The best situation to use this alternative is when describing a situation where a person takes over a role or position with high levels of responsibility or achievement.
It effectively replaces “big shoes to fill” by emphasizing the high expectations rather than focusing solely on the task size.
8. Uncharted territory
Like “Big shoes to fill,” “uncharted territory” describes someone entering a new and unfamiliar realm or taking on a role without clear precedents.
You can use it when there is no direct comparison to the previous occupant or standard. It effectively replaces “big shoes to fill” by highlighting the unique challenges and lack of established benchmarks.
9. Heavyweight contender
Heavyweight contender refers to someone considered a strong competitor or successor in a particular field or role.
So you can use this when describing a person with the necessary skills and qualities to perform well in their new position.
It effectively replaces “big shoes to fill” by focusing on the individual’s abilities and potential rather than the magnitude of the task.
10. Exalted position
If the role or position holds great prestige or honor, you can use “exalted position” instead of “big shoes to fill” when talking about a place that is highly regarded or respected.
It effectively replaces “big shoes to fill” since it talks about the significance and status of the role, shifting the focus from the previous occupant to the position itself.
11. Great Responsibility
This phrase emphasizes the weight of the duties and obligations associated with a particular role.
You can use “great responsibility” instead of “big shoes to fill” when describing a position that requires significant accountability and decision-making.
In this case, you’re emphasizing the importance of the responsibilities rather than the specific comparisons to the previous person.
12. Huge undertaking
If the task is massive or requires significant effort and resources, you can replace “big shoes to fill” with “huge undertaking.”
13. Grand Legacy
Grand legacy highlights the impressive accomplishments and contributions left by someone previously held a role or position.
You can use it when discussing a person who left a lasting impact or left behind a rich history. Instead of “big shoes to fill,” you can use “grand legacy” to explain the importance and significance of maintaining or building upon the previous individual’s achievements.
14. Weighty mantle
You can use “weighty mantle” to explain the symbolic responsibility or burden of assuming a particular role or position instead of saying, “big shoes to fill.”
By evoking an image of a significant role being passed on, you convey the importance of living up to its expectations.
It is best used when describing a duty that requires careful consideration and a deep understanding of its significance.
15. Prominent role
“Prominent role” is another adequate replacement for “big shoes to fill,” mainly when referring to a position with considerable prominence, influence, or visibility.
It effectively replaces “big shoes to fill” since it reflects on the importance and visibility of the role rather than solely focusing on the previous occupant.
You can use this alternative when referring to a role that has a significant impact or represents a larger entity.
16. Monumental task
A monumental task means an enormous and challenging task or assignment. It is best used as an alternative to “big shoes to fill: when conveying the magnitude and complexity of the job without directly comparing it to previous individuals.
By using this expression instead, it means the person occupying the new role needs immense effort, expertise, and dedication.
17. Crucial responsibility
If you’re using “big shoes to fill” to describe a vital position in achieving organizational goals or maintaining essential functions, you can use “crucial responsibility” instead.
It effectively replaces “big shoes to fill” because, with this phrase, you’re touching on the importance and significance of the responsibilities rather than the specific comparisons to the previous person, directing attention toward the importance of the role itself.
18. Eminent position
If you’re referring to a position of high distinction, prominence, or influence, you can say it’s an “eminent position” instead of “big shoes to fill.”
That way, you’re dwelling on the elevated status and reputation of the position.
19. Critical role
“Critical role” denotes a position that plays a pivotal and indispensable role in the success or functioning of a system, project, or organization.
You can use it as a replacement for “big shoes to fill” when underscoring the essential nature of the position and the impact it holds.
20. Heritage to uphold
This phrase conveys the idea of inheriting a legacy or tradition that needs to be preserved and honored.
If the person needs to maintain and carry forward the values and practices of the past, you can say “heritage to uphold” instead of “big shoes to fill.”
21. Significant inheritance
Someone with big shoes to fill is occupying an important and influential position or legacy.
So you can use “heritage” to uphold when referring to a role that carries considerable authority or impact.
22. Giant footsteps
Giant footsteps metaphorically represent the outstanding achievements and successes of the person who previously occupied a role.
So, you can use it to replace “big shoes to fill” when the previous individual sets a notable precedent.
23. Tower of expectations
Instead of using shoes, you can portray the towering height of expectations and standards that accompany them.
It is best used as an alternative in this regard when emphasizing the high benchmarks and performance levels that are anticipated.
24. Stellar standard
Use “stellar standard” instead of “big shoes to fit” when describing a role or position with a history of outstanding performance or achievement.
It effectively replaces “big shoes to fill” by emphasizing the exceptional excellence that needs to be maintained or surpassed.
25. Unmatched precedent
The previous achievement, performance, or unparalleled and unmatched standard would mean no direct comparison or equal measure to the previous occupant.
Unlike “big shoes to fill,” the phrase “Unmatched precedent” underscores the unique and unmatched nature of the previous accomplishments, highlighting the challenge of maintaining such a high standard.